Neab has been a torchbearer of modern writing in Kashmiri
In October 1968, Neab, a literary magazine in Kashmiri language was born in Srinagar. The publication, which went on to become a trend-setter magazine, was one among the numerous achievements of its founder, Amin Kamil, a literary figure of repute in Kashmir and a rare writer in any language. After the publication of 17 issues from 1968-1970, its publication was halted due to unavoidable circumstances in October 1971. However, in July 2005, the magazine came to be revived by Amin Kamil’s son, Muneebur Rahman from Greater Boston Area in Massachusetts, USA. From this year the magazine began bi-monthly publication, an ambitious venture for any literary magazine.
In a short period of time, its present editor, Muneebur Rahman, has been able to add 13 more issues upon the 17 earlier issues of Neab magazine. “No other independent Kashmiri literary journal has published so many issues,” he says. “That’s an achievement in itself.”
Currently serving as Director at BLI Translations, a division of The Boston Language Institute in the U.S., Muneeb has also recently received ISSN number for the magazine from the Library of Congress, officially making it an American magazine – A Kashmiri literary magazine published from the US. “Last year I released one to the issues of Neab before a mixed audience at Dudley House in the world-famous Harvard University,” he informs.
Neab international is a name given to the whole venture, which includes a website for the magazine (www.neabinternational.org). “The idea is to make available great works of Kashmiri literature online in their original form,” says Muneeb. Online presence of Neab has been made possible by Muzaffar Azim’s Kashmiri font. “There are still some characters pending Unicode approval. This will be a great achievement for Kashmiri,” he says. Neab is the only searchable website in Kashmiri.
Over its two lives the popularity and the prestige of Neab magazine has remained unchanged. Neab has been a torch bearer of modern writing in Kashmiri when it was first published, says Muneeb, as it lit up the contemporary writing then with new ideas and brought the struggling writers together and connected them. That experience is relived today. “Literature thrives in a close-knit literary community,” says Muneeb. To create the ambience of a community, Neab has the distinction of publishing photographs of 60 Kashmiri writers in 1969, and in the consecutive issues. “This magazine is different because of its independence,” says Muneeb, “because of its wide readership, its contents, its contemporaneity, its discussions, and the standard it’s trying to achieve in new writing.”
Muneeb always wanted to revive Neab. During his student days, when he didn’t have enough resources, he published one or two issues of a magazine, Qaaf, with Rafiq Raaz, and another in Urdu, by the name of Laa, with his best friend Farooq Afaq. Those were experiments and both were received well. After moving to the U.S, he says his dream of reviving Neab became materially possible, though there were, and still are, challenges that distance creates. “Neab has become part of my life here,” he says, adding that he’s thankful to his friend, actor and poet, Farooq Afaq, who gave him tremendous support in circulating the magazine in the valley. “It would be a daunting task without his help,” he says. Recently, Muneeb’s brother, a fine storyteller and founder-president of Koshur Mahaz, Shakeel ul Rehman, has taken up its distribution in India. “Shakeel is the first activist of our mother tongue who took its literacy to schools and streets during early 1980s. I must also thank some of my friends who provided me moral support, including Faiyaz Dilber, Rafiq Raaz, Shahnaz Rashid, Shafi Shauq, Hayat Amir Hussaini and Anzar Ghulam Hassan,” he says. “I must not forget the moral support I receive from a senior poet of Kashmiri, Muzaffar Aazim, in the U.S., and Amin Kamil in the valley. I also feel indebted to a noted storywriter Hirdey Kaul Bharati and a friend Zahoor Zahid for their support.”
Gulrez and Kongposh, the twin literary magazines of 1950s, had a tremendous role in awakening the interest of educated youth of the valley in their language and literature. “Those were the days of progressive writing,” he says. Neab came to be established around late 1960s, Muneeb points out, with another important mission – introducing much needed modern thought and sensibility in Kashmiri writing. “Neab is accredited with creating a larger literary community in our language for the first time in history,” he says. It introduced and encouraged new talent, the generation that seems to be the most expressive generation of writers. “It directly and indirectly inspired writers to strive to give their best,” he says. Amin Kamil was associated with all three, but behind Neab he was an exclusive force. “Many magazines were published after Neab but none touched the popularity and the standard that it successfully achieved,” says Muneeb.
The magazine publishes contemporary poems, short stories, criticism, etc in Kashmiri language. It has also raised issues about current orthography of Kashmiri and has followed its recommendations in the content it publishes. “I’m glad writers are now seriously thinking of revisions to the current orthography to make it accessible to Urdu-literate common man,” says Muneeb. “I’m glad during few years of its republication Neab has been reconnecting literary community.” Neab has published writers like Muzaffar Aazim and Hirdey Kaul Bharati after a long absence. “It reintroduced and brought to light writers like Faiyaz Dilbar, Farooq Afaq, Shakeel Rehman, Mohammad Ramzan, Hayat Amir Hussaini, and many others,” he says. Neab also published translations of a number of American writers such as W S Merwin, Robert Bly and David Crystal.
Muneeb says the magazine is focusing on the demise of short story in Kashmir. He believes there can be no better circumstances for great stories than we are living in at present in Kashmir. “I’m surprised why any stories are not coming out,” he wonders. It takes 3 to 4 pages, at least, for a story to develop, he says, but unfortunately the story in Kashmiri has been reduced to half, single, and at the most two magazine pages presently. I’m not denying all literary value of these pieces, he adds, but they can be anything but a story. “Most are just realistic descriptions of situations without any literary skill. Some that tend to be symbolic lack the element of story,” he says. A story writer, he explains, needs to conceive or plot a story and then develop it narration, dialog, character and situation. “A story should have a moment of revelation for the reader which is completely missing in current stories,” he says. Muneeb thinks that we should read Akhtar Mohiuddin’s earlier stories. “We should read Hari Krishan Koul and Rattanlal Shant to learn how a story is developed, how you can move forward a story by dialogue, by action,” he advises. “We should read Hirdey Kaul Bharati to learn how we can create an underlying meaning, a deep structure in a story in addition to its surface.”
Muneeb says given the tremendous response Neab magazine received, he recently increased its print run to match the demand in the Kashmir valley. It reaches all corners of the valley, Jammu, all the districts of the state, and many other parts of India. The magazine has some readership in foreign countries too, including the US and the UK. The magazine was also sent to Azad Kashmir and the Kashmiriat Department of Punjab University in Pakistan. “But unfortunately other than initial response of Altaf Andrabi, a lover of Kashmiri language and literature, no one has even acknowledged it,” he says. “My hope is that it brings a new life in literary activities in Kashmiri and I can feel it happening already.”
In 2005, Muneeb had started a daily online news site (www.koshurakhbar.com) in Kashmiri, with the aim of increasing fluency among its readership. It was the first online Kashmiri news portal, he says, and it used to get hundreds of hits daily from all corners of the world. Though the site still exists, but he could not devote time and resources for its continuation. “But soon the site will be turned into a weekly online news and views magazine in Kashmiri,” he says.
Muneeb believes within the next 100 years Kashmri language will be one of the endangered languages of the world “because of lack of interest by its own speakers in this language beyond ordinary communication.” Kashmir’s political situation, he adds, has had an adverse effect on this language. “Kashmiris are confused about the cultural importance of their language. Kashmiri literature too has lost the momentum it had gained 60 years ago,” he says. Literature, he says, is not created by governmental efforts. “There’s more encouragement today in terms of seminars, conferences, awards, subsidies for Kashmiri literature than 60 years ago,” he adds. But despite this, he says, we have not been able to keep up with the writers of that era in any genre.
Muneeb believes that we don’t need to study sciences in Kashmiri language. I don’t even support the idea of making a local language medium of instruction, he says, “not because Kashmiri is less developed a language but because knowledge must be imparted in a universal language which Kashmiri obviously is not.” What I would like to see, he points out, is literacy in this language. “We as native speakers of Kashmiri should be able to read and write in Kashmiri and use it in written expressions fluently.”